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ClassicsOnline Home » HOLLOWAY, Stanley: Old Sam and Young Albert (1930-1940)
Old Sam And Young Albert Original 1930-1940 Recordings
To his many fans in the United Kingdom, Stanley Holloway was
the epitome of the garrulous British music hall comedian. Brash and hearty as English roast beef,
Holloway enjoyed seven decades as an entertainer, which began before World War
I and continued almost up until the day he died at the age of 91. By the end of his career, Holloway had
conquered all facets of show business: the music hall, radio, motion pictures,
phonograph records, and finally, America’s Broadway stage. Those who became familiar with him
through his memorable portrayal of the carefree dustman Alfred P. Doolittle in
My Fair Lady were probably unaware that Holloway’s career as an entertainer
dated back to the turn of the century.
Stanley Holloway was born on 1 October 1890, the son of a
London law clerk. His career in show business began at the age of ten when he
began performing in seaside resorts and town halls as a boy soprano. In an interview he gave to The New
Yorker, Holloway recalled, “I earned two pounds a week and felt extremely
independent. Once I’d grown up and
become a baritone, I started singing in what we call concert parties, which are
rather like revues.” When he was
twelve, his school closed down and young Stanley got a job working as an office
boy at Billingsgate, the centuries-old London fish market.
Holloway fancied himself a budding opera star and saved up
enough money to travel to Milan to study to be an opera singer. However, World
War I broke out and Holloway spent four years in what he called the “P.B.I.”
(Poor Bloody Infantry).
After the armistice, Holloway abandoned his operatic
endeavours and returned to the stage, starring in and co-writing The
Co-Optimists, a revue that ran for six years. When it ended, he went back to the music hall, performing rhyming
monologues, and introduced a new piece of material he had written called Sam,
Pick Oop Tha’ Musket, about a recalcitrant soldier who refuses to pick up his
gun. Watching in the wings was George Marriott Edgar (1880-1951), a writer who
had been in the cast of The Co-Optimists.
After the curtain fell one night, Edgar asked Holloway if he had heard
of a story about a couple who had taken their young son to the zoo, only to see
the lad eaten by a lion. Holloway
had indeed heard the story and in a short time, Evans had supplied Holloway
with a script. The Lion and Albert
became one of Holloway’s most popular monologues, one of many he recorded for
Columbia beginning in 1930.
Holloway’s style is in the understated
look-on-the-bright-side world of the cockney working class. In the ensuing years, Holloway created
a stable of lovable characters, the most famous being Sam Small and the members
of the cantankerous Ramsbottom family, including the mischievous Albert. Holloway’s characters are stubborn,
obstinate, and hilariously clueless.
He often told his stories in costume; sporting outrageous attire and
Also recorded at the same session as The Lion and Albert was
the second monologue written by Edgar for Holloway, Three Ha’pence Per Foot, in
which Edgar took the Biblical story of Noah and “translated it” into Lancashire
dialect (a sequel, The ’Ole in the Ark, was recorded in 1937). This device was later used for other
comic works, including Steve Allen’s series of “Bebop’s Fables,” in which
familiar fairy tales were told in hipsters’ lingo, and Andy Griffith’s “Romeo
& Juliet,” where the Shakespearean tragedy was told from the point of a
view of a congenial country bumpkin.
Holloway and Edgar collaborated on many stories featuring
young Albert Ramsbottom, but Holloway also procured additional songs and
stories from other sources. One
was the songwriting team of Bob Weston and Bert Lee, who would pitch new
material to Holloway when they came up with something they thought would suit
him. One of the first they wrote
for him was With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm, a macabre but hilarious
song dealing with the ghost of the decapitated former English queen, Anne
Boleyn. In a 1971 interview,
Holloway chuckled when recalling the stolid executives at the B.B.C. gasping
when Holloway made reference in the song to “the bloody tower.” “You can’t say ‘bloody’ over the air!”
they shrieked and recommended Holloway change the phrase to “the ruddy tower.” Holloway refused, explaining that the term
was a noun and not an adjective and was perfectly acceptable. The B.B.C. recanted and allowed
Holloway to perform the piece as written.
Weston and Lee would provide Holloway with other numbers he incorporated
into his act, including Beat the Retreat on Thy Drum and Brown Boots.
By the mid-1930s, Stanley Holloway’s recordings had made him
one of the most popular comic entertainers in England. His film career, which had begun back
in 1921, brought him further fame.
He would make movies constantly, never missing more than two years
without an appearance, until the mid-1970s. Highlights of his film career include the comedy classic,
The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), and acting alongside Laurence Olivier in Hamlet
(1948), in which Holloway played the first gravedigger, a role Shakespeare is
reputed to have played. Holloway
also appeared in Brief Encounter (1945), Nicholas Nickleby (1946), and Jumping
for Joy (1956).
Holloway became familiar to American audiences when his
films began to be shown on television in the 1950s. In 1956, at the age of 65, he created the plum role of his
career: cast as the amoral yet amiable dustman Alfred P. Doolittle in Lerner
and Loewe’s fantastically successful Broadway musical, My Fair Lady.
Ironically, Holloway was no stranger to the two leading players in the
show. In 1941, while working on
the film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara, he met Rex
Harrison, who would go on to play the priggish Professor Henry Higgins. And after World War II, while performing
on radio, he worked with a young child singer named Julie Andrews, who would
become the linguistic changeling (and his stage daughter) Eliza Doolittle.
The role of Doolittle would become, in Holloway’s words,
“the wonderful Indian summer” of his long career. In 1964, he repeated the role in the popular film version of
My Fair Lady (after James Cagney had turned it down). He also starred as the namesake of a short-lived American
situation comedy, Our Man Higgins, which had the misfortune of being scheduled
against the hit comedy The Beverly Hillbillies and was quickly cancelled.
One music hall song that Holloway had performed was Harry
Champion’s “I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am,” whose refrain was turned into a pop
hit by the British Invasion group Herman’s Hermits. This prompted Holloway’s starring role in the film Mrs.
Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter (1968), which was based on another Hermits
After My Fair Lady, Holloway continued performing on the
British stage, making guest appearances on American television, recording new
versions of classic songs from the golden age of the music hall for Columbia
and Vanguard, and, in 1981, writing his autobiography, Wiv a Little Bit of
Luck, named for one of the two songs he sang in My Fair Lady. In his later years, Holloway became a
national institution, performing into his 90s. One of his last appearances was
at a Royal Command Performance in 1980.
Ten days after entering a nursing home in Sussex, on 30January 1982,
Stanley Holloway passed away peacefully at the age of 91.
This collection features fifteen of Stanley Holloway’s most
popular monologues and songs, which were recorded in England between 1930 and
1940. In these classic selections,
you will be introduced to or reacquainted with Old Sam, Albert Ramsbottom, and
other delightful blighters of Holloway’s world. So get yer top ’at on and enjoy the ride, me ol’ chinas!
– Cary Ginell (folklorist, radio broadcaster and
award-winning author of four books on American music. He lives in Thousand Oaks, California)
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